In baseball, it’s hard enough to make it to the major leagues playing the position you were signed for, let along doing so after shifting from pitching to hitting full time. Nevertheless, some players are talented enough to make the switch, including Jeoff Long, whose possible stardom was derailed by an injury in his early 20s.
Long grew up as a talented multi-sport athlete in Kentucky. Playing basketball, football and baseball, he excelled at all three until he suffered a knee injury during his junior football season.
The right-hander hit .590 during his senior baseball season but was nearly flawless on the mound, leading to being signed for around $70,000 by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959—when he was just 17 years old. He was sent to the low levels of the minors but his 2-14 combined record over the ensuing two seasons led the team to realize that his future was likely to be more successful with a bat in his hands instead of a ball.
If Long’s transition was difficult, it was difficult to tell by the numbers. In his first full season as a hitter the first baseman/outfielder hit 21 home runs in just 92 games and by 1962 he put up a .284 batting average with 30 home runs for the Cardinals’ Double-A team in Tulsa.
In 1963, at the age of 21, he was brought up to the Cardinals for a cup of coffee, appearing in five games. He managed a lone single (off Jack Sanford of the San Francisco Giants) in his five at-bats. He was brought up again the following year but was sold to the Chicago White Sox mid-season. All told, he played in 51 big league games that season, hitting a combined .192 with a home run (Against the Milwaukee Braves’ Bobby Tiefenauer) and nine RBIs. With the 1964 Cardinals winning the World Series, Long picked up a half a winner’s share for his 43 at-bats with the team.
Long suffered through a series of nagging injuries to start the 1965 season before his old knee injury flared up. He wound up having surgery but did not heal properly and missed the next two seasons. Although he returned in 1968 (in the minors for the Cardinals) he could not get himself back on track over the next couple of seasons. After the 1969 season, he retired from professional baseball, still just 27.
Following his playing career he went into the family business (Cincinnati Drum Service). Now 75, he is retired but still a fan of baseball. Keep reading to see what he had to say about his playing career.
Jeoff Long Questionnaire:
If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: I would have never had knee operation in fall of 1965. It failed.
What was the strangest play you ever saw on the baseball diamond?: No strange plays, but saw a lot of great plays.
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Whitey Kurowski, Grover Resinger, Harry Walker, and Eddie Stanky.
Did you ever get another player’s autograph during your playing career?: No autographs while playing. Did get some team baseballs. Got autographs when retired at old timers’ get-togethers.
For your info, I loved the game and all the people in it. It was an honor to play in the major leagues and be a part of the greatest game. Met and played with some of baseball’s best. Biggest thrill was signing with the Cardinals out of high school. Mo Mozalli signed me along with Eddy Lyons.
I had arm trouble and switched from the mound to first base and outfield.
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